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This post was written by Rit Breisler, a Systems Engineer at Earnest.
The high school graduation ceremony is a local affair for our southern Connecticut town. It’s modest but energetic, electric with excitement and pride. Some young folks from ROTC are there, bringing pomp with an equal quantity of solemnity, and, of course, nice patriotic props. A choir sings the national anthem, the school administration extolls the virtues of pursuing education and the quality of the graduates. Even the mayor says a few words.
My parents are there, and my three sisters as well, holding flowers. Further down the row are my grandmother and a family friend. I take a goofy selfie with my dad to lighten the mood. Everyone is anticipating the speech, perhaps a little worried, but I’m confident. It was one of those things I knew would go well, beyond any doubt. Sometimes you just know and aren’t even nervous despite all the daunting crowd and well-meaning faculty onlookers.
When it was time for the speech, it wasn’t one of my sisters who stood up, nor any other of my younger family members. This time, I proudly watch my mother head up to the podium. The rest of the family is holding its collective breath—we’re anxious folks like that.
My mother delivers her speech beautifully, weaving her tale of an education put-on-hold as a teenager after she became pregnant with my oldest sister. As she continues, the audience seems to grow more attentive, some nodding along as what she says resonates with them. My mom, Mary Lynn, will be 61 years old this year, and even with providing childcare for my two-year-old nephew daily, she found the energy to go to class each night. She ends the speech triumphantly, earning applause and cheers from her fellow graduates and the audience.
Her situation was somewhat different roughly two years ago. She found herself suddenly facing a layoff, in an anemic local job market, and she had no high school diploma. She looked for work for a while, in fact, before she decided that education was the differentiator that she’d pursue. And she really went for it, which wasn’t unexpected I suppose, but it’s really impressive to have observed her fortitude week after week, for the last two years.
She knew that if she was going to have a shot in the job market—and compete with a younger person who had a diploma—she needed this. But at some point during her return to school, she also had the realization that this achievement was not just something she needed, it was something she wanted. Attaining her high school diploma went beyond improving her job prospects—it was about living an empowered life, and that helped her channel the grit and determination to get it done.
“ Education is for everyone, for life, and often can be an end in itself. It’s not necessarily (or usually) easy, but determination and support can get you far. ”
Now she is armed with a lovely piece of paper and truly great accomplishment. She has the option to go further—that could mean college‚ if she’d like, or if it turns out she needs to for job reasons. Regardless, she’s doing what she can to push herself further, to ensure that she is able to be a provider for her family.
Watching this complete cycle, from unexpected hardship to triumphant celebration, was a nice reminder of the sorts of things one can achieve even in less-than-ideal and less-than-typical circumstances. Education is for everyone, for life, and often can be an end in itself. It’s not necessarily (or usually) easy, but determination and support can get you far.